Warhammer Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Games Workshop, launched on Wednesday. By and large things went off without a hitch, which is quite the trick considering the scope of this endeavor. But the amount of content on offer feels light, and while Angels of Death definitely lives up to the hype, not all of its new programs are a smash hit.
Here’s what we found on day one.
The big draw for Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar fans is Warhammer TV, which will eventually include 11 different animated series. But, on day one, there’s only two available: Angels of Death, a grimdark exploration of the Blood Angels Space Marines, and Hammer and Bolter, a kind of Black Mirror anthology that runs the gamut of the Games Workshop catalog. Between those two series, only four episodes went live on day one — one episode of Angels of Death, and three episodes of Hammer and Bolter. I watched them all in less than two hours.
Angels of Death is the standout series here. Helming the project is a team led by Richard Boylan, the creator of the beloved fan films Helsreach and Guardsmen. Rendered in deep blacks and bright reds, with lens flare for days, it’s the prettiest I’ve ever seen a Space Marine look on a television screen. That being said, the artifacting — partly due to compression, I imagine — is distracting. The fact that the service has launched without HDR support doesn’t help matters either.
Hammer and Bolter, on the other hand, isn’t too shabby. The program is much more traditionally animated, with bright, vibrant colors and excellent action sequences. Its first three episodes take some daring risks, including telling a story entirely through the eyes of a group of orks. If you just want to dip you toe in the water, check these programs out. The $5.99 monthly subscription is a small price to pay for a few hours of action.
The question remains, though, how long GW is going to draw things out. They’ve publicly stated that “new animations are set to arrive almost every Wednesday,” but whether or not we’ll need to wait an entire year for Angels of Death to complete its story arc is an open question. Polygon has reached out to GW for clarification.
For fans of the hobby itself, there are two more shows available at launch. Citadel Masterclass, hosted by Louise Sugden, is extraordinary. It assumes a fair bit of prior knowledge, like how to build and use a wet palette and mix your paints into a glaze. But her 20-minute exploration of how to paint the face on a Space Marine is something that I’ll be returning to for years to come. I only wish that the camera angles were a bit tighter; less torn cuticles, and more precise images of the brush hitting the miniature, please.
Battle Report is, unfortunately, the least entertaining show in the mix. The service launched with two hour-long episodes, one each for Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar, both featuring miniatures from the most recent collector’s edition boxed sets. But the camera work leaves much to be desired.
The majority of the program is shot from directly overhead, and it spends most of its time zoomed in on dice being rolled. Why on Earth there aren’t more shots down at table level, showing off these beautifully painted miniatures, is an absolute mystery. The lighting and costuming also does the hosts absolutely no favors. The only upside, in my opinion, is Toby Longworth — the same voice actor who reads the audiobook versions of the Eisenhorn trilogy and the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels — who handles the introductory narration.
Technically speaking, my experience with Warhammer TV was pretty good. The iOS app that I used has built-in hooks for casting to my TV, and my colleagues with Roku smart TVs got things up and running with that platform’s native app with no problem. It also runs well out of my browsers in Windows 10.
The only issues I had, like I mentioned above, were with Angels of Death and that nasty, nasty artifacting and compression. Also of note is the fact that the iOS app has an option to download most shows (not Angels of Death, however), but you can’t actually play them back without an internet connection of some kind. It’s a strange choice, and I’m hoping to hear back from GW on whether or not that’s the intended functionality.
Warhammer Vault is another offering included with Warhammer Plus. It’s a curated collection of digital print materials. Right now, it mostly features fluff — lore books that inform readers about settings and important events in the universes of Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar.
There’s also 30 issues of Warhammer: Visions, a lavish magazine now out of print that’s filled with excellent photography by the team at White Dwarf. There’s also 10 back issues of White Dwarf itself, dating back to January 2020. It’s a nice touch, as they include lots of content for a host of different games. The standout is issue 458, which includes an abbreviated Codex for the Tome Keepers chapter of Space Marines, a homebrew faction dreamed up by the magazine’s staff.
Also part of the Warhammer Plus subscription at launch is a handy dandy little army-building app, available for iOS and Android devices. Called Warhammer 40,000: The App, it’s been available for some time as a subscription. It’s an excellent add-on — especially considering that it alone cost users $4.99 a month when it launched last year.
Overall, Warhammer Plus has value, but not for what it launched with. It’s a tool for learning more about the hobby, a database of sorts for lore, and a drip feed of really good cartoons. But rather than focusing on the four episodes that it launched with, consumers should instead focus on what’s coming down the pike later this year.
GW has promised 11 animated series in total, plus additional content in the Warhammer Vault, and another documentary-style program called Loremasters. There’s also a companion app on the way for Age of Sigmar, designed and built to function exactly like Warhammer 40,000: The App. For those who opt for a full-year subscription, there’s also an exclusive miniature that you’ll be getting in the mail. That alone is, literally, worth the $59.99 annual price tag.
Finally, Games Workshop is running a special introductory promotion. Sign up before Aug. 31 and you’ll receive a $10 voucher to use online. That brings the total cost for year one down to $49.99.